While Valley Central’s proposed $22.7 million bond referendum was defeated by taxpayers in an Aug. 20 vote by an extremely tight 30-vote margin, the district is not giving up just yet on getting a referendum project passed this year.
Under the district’s tentative plan, another referendum vote could be held in December. The district is not allowed to hold another vote until 90 days after the initial Aug. 20 referendum balloting, and Interim School Business Official Brad Conklin noted that the district wouldn’t be able to obtain election machines until mid-December to hold another vote.
Superintendent John Xanthis explained at the Aug. 26 meeting that Valley Central could present voters a ballot that included one proposition with the essential items including the High School-Middle School complex parking lot renovation, and a second prop with additional items that voters could select as well. Under that theoretical scenario, the second proposition could only pass if the first was approved as well. Prop A could also pass and prop B could fail, or voters could also choose to reject both measures and no project would go forward.
“It will probably be two different votes,” Xanthis told the board. “One would be absolutely essential things for the front of the high school for safety. Then the other things would be in a separate vote.”
After meeting with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) about the agency’s plan to install a traffic light on Route 17K outside the high school, the administration is convinced that they must begin their construction work on the parking lot before the state commences its project. “Since the last board meeting we did meet with DOT and they like our plans,” Xanthis informed the board. “They told us that in November of 2020 they would be coming back to start staging ideas of breaking ground probably in the spring of 2021 to do their work. Again, it’s pretty important, I don’t want to say absolutely essential, but very, very important that we get our work done, the infrastructure, before they do.”
The superintendent took responsibility for the first referendum going down, but said the district had to move forward. “We have to get a lot better information out publicly,” he said. “I can give you reasons why we had the vote and why we couldn’t do it until that date, because I thought there was urgency to get it through, but hindsight is 20/20. So now we have to admit it, and I certainly admit that it falls on me, and now we have to fix it and keep moving here. Because we have to get this referendum, at least the essentials, through.”
On Aug. 20, 585 residents voted against the proposal, while 555 voted for it. The razor-thin 30-vote margin gives the district hope that a reconfigured bond package could be passed this year, with Xanthis noting the vote was the closest he had ever experienced. “It’s been a lot of years, but that was probably the closest I ever saw,” he said. “I said tonight, and I think people don’t disagree, that I don’t feel with 1,100 people voting that a 30-vote spread is a mandate. But I was hoping, because this is such an issue that I thought the community would rally around. I was hoping that we would come out with something like the last budget vote with 66 percent (approval). That would have given us a good jumping off point, because we have a lot of good ideas about other things that we want to do. But in the end, if we can get the board to decide on what we can do and get time to sell it and really get the information out and hopefully have more people come out because we’re in session, then hopefully the community will speak and say, ‘We can support that.’”
A mathematical error also harmed the district’s case to voters with the initial vote, as Valley Central’s bond presentation and literature sent out to district voters included incorrect figures on the project’s tax impact. The district told residents that a homeowner with an annual school tax bill of $2,000 would pay an extra $92 per year if the project passed, when the actual number was $9.
The district did not release the correct numbers until days before the balloting, and after letters about the project went out to the community with the wrong figures on Aug. 13. “It was just a miscalculation,” Xanthis said. “It was one decimal point, and the number was 10 times higher.” Going forward, the district hopes that voters being informed of the lower tax burden could help the plan pass. “The other thing is that the numbers are going to be better,” the superintendent said of a potential second vote. “The night that the numbers went up, we all kind of thought ‘Geez, they seem high.’ But we thought that’s what the numbers were. In our budget, we get 35 percent from the state, but on building aid we get 75 percent. So if we’re going to do work, this is the most economical way to do it for the district.”
Xanthis said that many residents may have supported the high school parking lot renovations but were not convinced that other items like a concession stand/Makerspace classroom at the high school were necessary. “I know that some people say, ‘The things that you added on like Makerspace, that was fluff,’” Xanthis said during the meeting. “I do want to make sure that everyone is cognizant of the fact that we had those curriculum meetings and we put it out on Thought Exchange, and this is what we heard from the community. That people supported it.”
Trustee Sheila Schwartz noted that reps from the CSArch architectural firm had previously told the board that to attract the best bids for the project, the referendum would have to be passed by the fall. “When CSArch was here, they told us and the public that if we did not get a vote done by October, the bids would be too high to go into the spring and we wouldn’t be able to get them done for the spring submission,” Schwartz said during the meeting. “So does that all change?”
The superintendent said the district may still have time to get the bids out by February if a proposal were passed in December. “We’re going to find that out,” Xanthis replied. “If we can’t get this out on the street, I think what they were referring to is the late spring, is that people would throw a bid in but it would just be ridiculous because they don’t have the manpower or the time. So you’re never going to get good bids then. The only way we can get legitimate good bids in my mind, and I think from what the experts tell me, is to be out on the street by late February. If we can’t do that, then I won’t recommend that to you.”